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Utilities and Customers Benefit From Beneficial Electrification Programs

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Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer, Final Draft Communications, LLC

Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with well-known companies, providing direction, research, writing, and...

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Given the substantial benefits electrification brings to utility customers — including lower and more predictable energy costs, improved air quality, and increased convenience — many utilities are taking a proactive approach to this process. Yet, many others, especially smaller companies, are burdened by limited staff time and bandwidth.

The sections below provide examples of successful electrification programs and highlight a valuable resource that can help with program creation and implementation. The resource is the Beneficial Electrification Toolkit, developed by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). The comprehensive Toolkit includes sections to help utilities understand beneficial electrification, explore helpful technologies, assess opportunities, and plan and deploy a beneficial electrification program.

Orcas Power and Light Cooperative

When: April 2019

Who: Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO), an electric co-op serving the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington

Why: Thanks to abundant access to hydropower, OPALCO offers nearly carbon-free electricity to its members. However, a significant number of customer buildings are heated by fossil fuels, which must be delivered via expensive ferry trips, increasing heating costs.

What: The Switch It Up! on-bill program provides debt-free financing to members for (1) the replacement of fossil-fueled residential and commercial equipment with electrical equipment and (2) EV charging stations for both residences and small businesses.

How: Program participants repay OPALCO as a line item on their monthly bill. Two years in, the program had has financed 210 projects for $2 million in energy upgrades. The goal is to finance 100 projects per year for the next 10 years.

Mountain Parks Electric

When: July 2021

Who: Mountain Parks Electric (MPE), a Touchstone Energy® Cooperative, which serves a large portion of north-central Colorado, encompassing all of Grand and Jackson Counties, and parts of Larimer, Routt, and Summit Counties, including most of Rocky Mountain National Park

Why: Many members want to invest in electrification improvements but don’t have the budget to pay the full costs up-front.

What: The Electrify Everything program finances beneficial electrification upgrades and other energy improvements, enabling qualifying members to pay for an energy investment over the span of several years, rather than paying the full cost up-front.

How: Members use an on-bill tariff model to fund air-source heat pumps, commercial EV charging stations, insulation upgrades, and solar array installations. The program has funded more than 20 beneficial electrification projects totaling more than $544,000.

City of Rock Hill, South Carolina

When: July 2019

Who: City of Rock Hill, South Carolina, located 25 miles south of Charlotte

Why: Rather than converting diesel transit buses to electric, as many other cities across the country are doing, the City wanted to launch a fixed-route transit bus system using a non-traditional model.

What: The Rock Hill MyRide™ fixed-route transit bus system — a free, city-wide service supporting a population of 74,000 — includes a 100% electric fleet of seven buses.

How: The system has boosted economic development in the state by purchasing the buses from an in-state company and by serving poorer areas of the city. Maintenance costs for electric motors are lower, with fewer moving parts than fossil-fueled engines and the buses use electricity during economical, off-peak night times. Six months into operation, ridership reached 5,500 passenger trips per week.

The Beneficial Electrification Toolkit

The Beneficial Electrification Toolkit is “a free resource to help utilities and stakeholders turn a general interest in beneficial electrification into a concrete program.” The Toolkit is packed with helpful resources, including videos, infographics, statistics, assessments, worksheets, and checklists.

Inspiration to develop the Toolkit came from utility projects EESI assisted on during their development. As the organization saw the success these companies achieved, it saw an opportunity to help others do the same. John-Michael Cross, Project Manager at EESI, said, “Working together with the Beneficial Electrification League, we were having many great conversations and workshops across the country. But it became clear that utilities still needed a resource to sink their teeth into to help kick the planning process into gear. So, we developed the Toolkit to be that resource.”

Through the Toolkit, EESI seeks to help utilities break up the planning process into more manageable pieces and avoid common mistakes, such as focusing on single electrification measures or benchmarks. Cross stated, “It can be easy to focus, say, on installing heat pumps and maximizing load growth in the process. But that can lose sight of maximizing value to the customer by pairing electrification upgrades with insulation and other efficiency measures.”

Cross encouraged professionals at all types of utilities to explore the Toolkit, though it was written specifically with rural electric co-ops in mind. He noted, “We tried to make it relevant and useful for anyone working at any type of electric utility.”

Has your utility explored or started a beneficial electrification program? Please share in the comments.

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